Another season at Vermont Valley Community Farm is coming to an end: twenty years and counting! The harvests are mostly wrapping up this week, although a few Storage Share vegetables stay in the field till November. Fall colors this year have been spectacular, but they have reached their pick, with winter soon to follow. The foggy mornings are particularly beautiful this time of year; Barb and I get to enjoy the view over breakfast.
The fields get put to bed for the winter; below was my view this morning finishing fall tillage in preparation for early season plantings in the spring. The ridged soil goes through a frost/freeze cycle that will produce a mellow seed bed in the spring. The still green fields were planted with cover crops in August; these plants will end up supplying nutrients to late season vegetables. So, your food these last few weeks began their cycle with cover crops planted over a year earlier. Garlic will be planted next week, the last planting of 2014 which is also the first planting for 2015 harvests.
Every season is unique and has its ups and downs. What I will remember most about this season is the exceptionally wonderful weather. No extreme heat or humidity during the summer months. Fall has been filled with beautiful day after beautiful day. I can think of just one nasty hot day and just one nasty cold and rainy day all season. Working outside everyday makes the weather all the more relevant; and this season’s weather was great to work in.
As some of you may remember, last winter continued on late into the year. I, like everyone else, wanted it to end; but now as I look back I have different thoughts. The cold was followed by a gradual warmup; there was no summer in March like a few years back (very bad for plants); no hot to cold to hot to cold… that killed our garlic last year (very bad), no monsoons, just a consistent warmup (very good). The extended winter also likely accounted for a reduction in the insect problems this season. So pardon me if I wish for another winter just the same as last year’s, but I am.
The rainfall was overall quite good, other than a drought from July 1 to mid-August; lots of irrigation going on then. Water is absolutely critical to vegetables, with the best water coming from the sky. We are equipped to irrigate, but are thankful when we do not have to. Temperature and rainfall are the two key elements to growing food, neither of which we have control over. The year 2014 was good to us on both counts.
We were very pleased with the quantity and quality of nearly all the crops. The most frequent comment heard from members was, “great sweet corn”. I can’t tell you how many people said “great corn” to me this season; we will go for a repeat in 2015. The mild temperatures seemed to make everything happy, even the heat loving crops did well. There are always some problems, it goes with the concept of growing over 40 different crops. Our biggest problems for the year were the early legumes, they did not come out of the ground, including beans, peas and edamame. Although, the later season beans were bumper crops. Oddly enough, we had beet germination problems as well, apologies to the beat lovers out there. That’s it for the bad, everything else did well to great. We are always trying to improve, but I’d take this year’s harvest every year.
The festivals and u-picks were the best attended ever. Over 1800 pumpkins were carried from the field at the Pumpkin Pick, the goblins must be proud. The tomato u-picks where super popular, I am curious to know the amount of salsa, tomato sauce… resulting from the picks. We host these events so you have a chance to be on the farm that your food comes from. We are happy that many of you take us up on the opportunity.
Thank you for allowing us to be your Farmers. Barb and I have been at this for 20 years now, and since starting a CSA was a mid-life correction for us, time is coming to create a strategy for the next 20 years; stay tuned. So farewell to 2014; hope to feed you in 2015; and please fill out that Survey.
See you next year!
We at Vermont Valley Community Farm have been growing produce for our CSA for 20 years. With the exception of our connection with Willy Street Coop production kitchen and a few other local businesses, you will not find Vermont Valley produce on restaurant menus, at farmers markets or in stores. We choose to deliver all of our produce to our CSA members, putting all of our time and effort into being the best CSA possible. When we have less than perfect produce or more volume than can be worked into our CSA, we make our produce available to those who need it most.
For the 20 weeks of our CSA delivery season, the harvest crews bring in thousands of pounds of produce from the fields. After the produce has been sorted and washed we are left with hundreds of pounds of vegetables with imperfections. We have developed relationships with organizations in the Madison area who gladly accept produce donations.
This is our 6th year working with the Goodman Community Center. Our produce is channeled through several different programs in the center, and this partnership has been the highlight of our donation activity this season. Vermont Valley vegetables are incorporated into program meals each week through the Kid’s Cafe Program which connects Madison community centers and local farms, funded by Group Health Cooperative. GHC Community Care Manager, Jill Jacklitz, “Our community is so lucky to have a farm like Vermont Valley! As a healthcare organization we work hard to get people eating fresh produce because we know it has such a positive impact on health. Through our partnership in the Farm Fresh Produce Program, GHC and Vermont Valley have brought thousands of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to kids at Madison area community centers. It’s exciting to watch Vermont Valley’s partnership with Goodman Community Center grow to include their support of Goodman’s food pantry and senior meal program.” Through this program, the Goodman Community Center has served over 1300 pounds of Vermont Valley produce to the kids during summer day camps and after school programs. Much of the meal preparation is done by program youth.
Jonnah, Vermont Valley Donations Coordinator, packing collard greens for youth program meals.
Food Procurement Manager, Amy Mach, and her team have processed thousands of pounds of our produce in Goodman’s certified preservation kitchen. “We did a total of 3,267 pounds. This included canned tomatoes, frozen tomatoes, dried tomatoes, frozen green beans, frozen corn, frozen summer squash and frozen peppers. All this produce will be handed out in the food pantry during the winter months!” Amy was able work with any volume of produce we sent her way – usually with less than 24 hours of lead time to plan.
Amy Mach with stacks of tomatoes and sweet corn to be processed.
Prepping tomatoes in the Goodman Community Center Preservation Kitchen.
SlowFood Madison and Goodman Community Center teamed up this year to provide free cooking classes hosted at the center. Vermont Valley has donated produce for the monthly events and will continue to offer our produce in the future.
Slow Food Madison cooking class, hosted at Goodman Community Center, using Vermont Valley produce
This year we have donated over 11,000 lbs of produce to Goodman Community Center which is used for various program meals and distributed to the community through the Fritz Food Pantry. Jon Lica, Food Pantry Coordinator, says of the Goodman and Vermont Valley relationship,“Our partnership with Vermont Valley Community Farm has had a very profound impact on the Fritz Food Pantry. Their generosity and similarly minded approach to the local food network has enabled us to expand our harvest season by preserving over 3,000 pounds of produce to distribute during the winter months, offer an abundance of healthy food options for pantry recipients and even offer free cooking classes! We’re so fortunate to be working with such great people!”
Vermont Valley tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant for the Fritz Food Pantry.
Shelves of fresh vegetables ready for distribution.
The Goodman Community Center’s Seed to Table Program will be visiting the farm next week to harvest collard greens and pumpkins. Youth in this program earn high school credit while learning valuable job skills. The greens they harvest will be used in program meals and frozen in the preservation kitchen to be served and distributed during the winter months. TEENworks Manager, Keith Pollack says, “Vermont Valley offers the Seed to Table students at the Goodman Community Center the opportunity to glean pumpkins and collards from the farm. This experience allows students from Madison to see a larger farm in a rural area and adds to their experience of growing foods in a community garden in an urban area. It also allows them to see where food that comes to kitchen comes from as well as being able to collect fresh produce to be distributed in the food pantry.”
Over the past 6 years, our partnership with this center has proven to be an amazing outlet for our produce and a source of on-farm experience for Goodman Community Center program participants.
Goodman TEENworks program students picking pumpkins on the farm.
During June, July and August we coordinate a weekly donation of produce to Badger Camp, a camp in Prairie du Chien serving those with developmental disabilities. Badger Camp served over 2200 pounds of Vermont Valley Community Farm produce to its campers this summer.
Stacks of produce waiting to be picked up by Badger Camp.
Badger Camp loading crates of produce for camp meals.
When CSA members cannot pick up their share for the week, we deliver the excess produce to low income families or place it in local childcare centers. This effort ensures that no shares are wasted while passing along the extra vegetables to families and children.
Our produce also makes its way to other events and organizations such as Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, FairShare CSA Coalition Bike the Barns, AIDS Network AIDS Ride, Ingleside Manor, First United Methodist Church Food Pantry, and Middleton Outreach Ministry.
Second Harvest truck picking up a donation.
David loading donations onto the Second Harvest truck.
Part of our community mission is to place as much excess produce into the local food system as possible. The total weight of produce distributed into the community between May and October of this year has nearly doubled since 2013! Our relationships with community centers, schools and food pantries continue to strengthen, stretching the reach of Vermont Valley produce further. We are fortunate to have developed partnerships with organizations that share our dedication to improving the local food system by making locally grown, organic produce available to those who otherwise may not have access to this food.
Thanks to all our CSA members who make our efforts possible.
Jesse, Joe, Josh one of the first worker shares and David on the packing line our second season.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how we deliver your produce. This week I want to talk about how the delivery has changed over the past 20 years, as the farm has grown. Presently we deliver about 1200 vegetable shares and 225 fruit shares every week; our first year we delivered 50 vegetable shares.
In the early years of the farm our delivery day was on Monday, because Barb and David were still working jobs in Madison for most of the work week. In that first year nearly all of our harvest, washing and bagging happened on Monday. Our only cooler was an old refrigerator, found on the curb of the near east side. The first season we packed share boxes around two metal tables which we still use in the packing shed and at our events. Each box was labeled with the member’s name. Since we knew almost all of our members that first year (most of them were friends from the near east site who bravely supported this crazy idea of ours) we could give someone more or less of a vegetable if we knew their preferences. We delivered all of the shares in a 1989 Dodge Caravan, to two sites; the current Jenifer Street site and the Mason Street site which was a site until two years ago.
Our second year we added improvements that are still an important part of the farm. We added our first walk in cooler which we still use, allowing us to harvest earlier in the week. We also greatly improved our box packing area. We filled in the old dairy barn manure gutters and added our box packing line, which has only been slightly modified over the past 19 years. Our box packing line was built from parts of the old bowling alley at the Eagles Club, that Joe Schmitt salvaged when it was torn down to build Willy Street Coop. We also added a trailer that we towed behind the minivan for our deliveries. It had a canvas cover draped over metal bows, kind of looked like a gypsy caravan.
Over the years we have continued to make changes to our delivery system. After two years we switched the delivery day to Thursday and began to only pack and deliver the shares on Thursday; harvest happened prior to Thursday. We began renting trucks from Ryder for our deliveries to replace the minivan and then eventually bought our own box truck which we also used for harvest. We have added (and gotten rid of) trucks until we got to our present fleet of two box trucks and two box trailers which we use to deliver to 34 sites. We added a loading dock, so we no longer had to get a running start to load the boxes onto the truck. We also switched from wax boxes that we had to assemble as we packed them, to the plastic boxes that we use today.
The delivery process has evolved and has become much more efficient over the years. Even though the farm is now over twenty times bigger than when we began, we are still able to pack and deliver all of the shares in one day.
Box packing line 1995
Set up for the pack our first year.
All of the boxes assembled and labeled.
Ready for the pack our second year.
Barb leaving for the delivery.
Fall is a beautiful time on the farm, as it is everywhere in Wisconsin. This fall has been particularly warm, making it quite pleasant to work. The autumn colors have been slowly creeping in. Fall bring lots of big harvest jobs. Not only are we harvesting crops for the week’s delivery; we are also harvesting crops to be set aside in coolers for the storage share deliveries.
Kale harvest. We harvest the kale stem by stem and band the stems together in the field.
Leek harvest. The leeks are undercut with a big blade pulled by a tractor. This loosens them so we can easily pull them out. We clean and trim them in the field. When we get back to the packing shed we spray each leek.
Red lettuce harvest. The lettuce is cut and cleaned in the field. When we get back to the packing shed we spray the root end and dip the entire head in a tub of cold water.
Washing bok choy. The bok choy is cut and brought back to the packing shed. As the heads are placed in the tub of water we clean off any undesirable leaves and rub the head clean. A most tedious process.